Vusanani Toloki garden in ward 7, Matobo district is run by a dynamic group of 10 women, many of whom are widows. The .75Ha irrigated garden was established in 1993 to provide the community with fresh vegetables for household consumption and sale.
Matobo district faces erratic rainfall with long mid-season dry spells often followed by flash floods. All this takes place in an area that already suffers from poor/unfertile soils that are not suitable for dry-land field crop production. Despite this, communities depend on rain-fed agriculture and typically harvest low yields. In response, where possible, farmers have diversified into garden production to augment food availability.
Before the establishment of the Vusanani Toloki garden, the community relied on traditional vegetables that is okra and “ulude” from dryland agriculture and brushwood gardens. Acute shortage of rainfall due to drought negatively affected their harvest. Communities who did not have access to brushwood gardens relied on begging from relatives, a survival strategy viewed by many as degrading. As a result, families rarely had a range of fresh produce to eat and their diet was compromised.
In 2014, a UKAid, through Trocaire funded project, “increasing food security and resilience to climate shocks” provided garden members with seed packs and solar powered pump systems to promote intensive crop production and ease the burden of hand pump irrigation. Garden members received training in practical gardening, farming as a business, business management, leadership and Community Based Management that was facilitated by project team members in collaboration with Government Extension Officers. They also received training in cross cutting issues such as gender, environmental management, HIV and AIDS and Participatory Health and Hygiene Education. The training empowered garden members with knowledge on growing market-oriented crops that will enable them to generate income. Currently garden members grow a diverse range of vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, butternut pumpkins, choumolier, tomatoes and onion for household consumption and sale at farm gate prices. They sell their garden produce to local villagers and to Matobo Food Processing and Value Addition Centre. According to the garden members interviewed, they make $30- $50 per month from sale of vegetables.
As a result of the project, farmers have improved their diet with a wide range of vegetables. The income from garden proceeds has enabled them to pay school fees, purchase household utensils and productive assets such as goats, ploughs, wheelbarrows and shovels. They have also formed Internal Savings and Lending Schemes, where they contribute $10 per month that they share annually. They also contribute $1 a month towards the Burial Society that they have formed. Access to income has enabled women to contribute to their household economy and has increased their decision-making power and boosted their confidence levels. The project has enhanced the women’s ability to get credit as the productive assets act as collateral. Garden members also supply Tshelanyemba Hospital and Child Headed households with vegetables as part of community social responsibility.
“As a result of this garden, we now eat fresh vegetables that were a preserve for those living in urban areas and our diet has improved. The income generated from garden proceeds, has enabled us to pay school fees and buy necessities for our children”, said Rosena Kgwatala (64), garden chairperson.
In the next five years, the members foresee themselves starting other income generation activities such as poultry rearing and goat production to diversify their livelihoods